Superstar waits as the people deliberate

Three months of testimony and 98 pages of instructions to digest before a verdict is reached

The world may be impatient for a verdict, and the hundreds of reporters barricaded into the car park of the Santa Maria courthouse may be going stir crazy, but the jury in the Michael Jackson child molestation case is showing no indication of rushing to complete its deliberations.

The eight women and four men have spent 28 hours since 3 June sifting through three months of trial testimony and considering the 98 pages of jury instructions. Unusually for a deliberation period of this length, there have been few questions relayed to the court.

The best guess of legal observers is that they are all too aware of the media spotlight, and want to make sure they have covered the ground as thoroughly as possible. "It appears that they are being quite conscientious," said Jean Rosenbluth, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Southern California. "The obvious conclusion to draw is that the jury is aware of the world watching and wants to cross every T and dot every I."

As jurors headed home for the weekend on Friday afternoon, CNN quoted court sources saying they had finally asked a number of questions and had asked to have some of the testimony read back to them. Before that, the only known question from the jury came on Monday, the first full day of deliberations.

Assuming the CNN report is correct, the flurry of questions could mean the jury has only a few loose strands to tie up before returning a verdict on Monday or Tuesday. Or it could be the prelude to a period of indecision possibly lasting several more days.

A deliberation period of one or even two weeks is certainly not unheard of. Frequently, however, protracted decision-making is characterised by deadlock on one or more of the charges, or some problem with individual jurors.

The length of the jury instructions is not, on its own, likely to be the sticking point. When O J Simpson went on trial for the murder of his ex-wife and her lover a decade ago, the jury all but disregarded its instructions and returned a not guilty verdict in 42 minutes flat.

According to the questionnaires filled out by the jurors at selection time, the panel is relatively well educated and relatively well qualified to pronounce on the subject matter at hand. The 63-year-old man chosen as foreman is a retired school counsellor. More than half the jurors have a university degree. The panel also includes a social worker, a special education aide, a retired teacher and a physical therapy aide; in other words, people with experience of dealing either with children, or with damaged people of one sort or another.

The questionnaires also underline how tightly knit a community Santa Maria is - compared with a big city like Los Angeles, or even the cosmopolitan county seat, Santa Barbara. One juror has been to Neverland and another has met Michael Jackson.

Lawyers with experience of trying cases in Santa Maria agree it tends to throw up very conservative jury pools - the kind of people likely to be unimpressed with Jackson's celebrity or his eccentric behaviour, especially around other people's children. Professor Rosenbluth said the jurors are also likely to feel the pressure of justifying whatever decision they make to the broader community. Finding him guilty might, ultimately, be an easier thing to explain to their neighbours than letting him go free.

Many legal experts say there is still plenty of room to find reasonable doubt in the evidence, depending on the jurors' personal response to the key witnesses and the credibility or otherwise that they inspire. Various players with sympathy for Jackson have spent the past few days jostling for position, and for media attention, possibly in the hope that the jurors - who have not been sequestered in their off-duty hours - might catch a whiff of their sentiments and be swayed by them.

On Friday, a statement on the Jackson website www.mjjsource.com said he had parted company with his spokeswoman, Raymone Bain, and her firm. The statement, attributed to MJJ Productions, added "We thank you for your services", but did not elaborate.

Jackson himself has been in and out of hospital complaining of back pain. The Reverend Jesse Jackson, the former presidential candidate, spent part of last week giving daily news conferences outside the courthouse, until it was made clear he had no authority to speak on behalf of the accused.

The bored television crews were grateful for the material for as long as it lasted. Once Rev Jackson disappeared from the scene, they took to interviewing each other instead.

THE 98-PAGE INSTRUCTION MANUAL THE JURY MUST FOLLOW

The jury in case 1133603, being the People of the State of California vs Michael Joe Jackson, will resume wrestling this week not so much with their own recollections of three months of evidence, but with a 98-page document. These are the lengthy, and necessarily legalistic, instructions from the judge. Much of it concerns definitions of what constitutes direct, rather than hearsay, evidence; how jurors should evaluate witnesses; and discrepancies in testimony. Only on page 63 is the nub of the case reached with a section that sets out the "Conspiracies and Substantive Crimes Charged and Overt Acts". There are 28 of them, covering the detail of allegations of molestation, supplying alcohol and conspiracy to commit child abduction, false imprisonment and extortion.

The vast majority cover the conspiracy charge. A flavour can be gleaned from the allegations contained in Overt Act Number 3: "On and between 7 February 2003 and 8 February 2003, Michael Joe Jackson did return the Arvizo family to Santa Barbara in a private jet. On the flight, Michael Joe Jackson did sit with Gavin Arvizo and did give him an alcoholic beverage, concealed in a soft drink can. Michael Joe Jackson did then present Gavin Arvizo with a wristwatch. Michael Joe Jackson did tell Gavin Arvizo that the watch was worth $75,000. Michael Joe Jackson did tell Gavin Arvizo not to tell anyone about them drinking alcoholic beverages together."

But one leading US lawyer believes two videos presented in court may prove the key to the verdict. The New York Times reported Professor Laurie L Levenson, of Loyola Law School, Los Angeles, saying the tapes would be crucial. The prosecution's video shows Jackson's accuser in a police interview talking in a halting way of the alleged molestation - a different demeanour to the one he showed in court. The defence's video consisted of excerpts from Martin Bashir's Living with Michael Jackson in which the singer talks of his innocent love of children.

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